Vellum Venom: 2017 North American International Auto Show (Part I)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
Car shows take Vellum Venom down a psychotropic styling journey: elaborate displays with brilliant interior design elements, dazzling lighting, stunning product specialists (if you’re into that gawking thing), free top-shelf crap everywhere and perfect machinery refreshed by an army of detailers. Many years passed since my last auto show, but I had to come back to get the latest bits of car design. And interior design. And architecture.Those three in mind, the Hyundai section was a remarkable letdown: the architecture brilliantly absorbed Cobo Center’s impressive amounts of negative area, marred by the mediocrity of a bland-toned Accent occupying prime real estate. Why ruin my Architectural-Digest worthy photograph?
Michelin picked up the fumble for a touchdown via two Singer 911s, one grabbing Cobo’s aforementioned negative area. Not that I have a beef with the Accent (I enjoyed its Mexican Dodge predecessor), but it shouldn’t get a front row seat to the show. But this story isn’t an extension of Vellum Venom’s dealership design series. Let’s get to the metal.
The new Chevy Traverse shows how far TWO design elements percolated into the mainstream.
First: rear bumpers that protect nothing. Better keep full coverage insurance, otherwise you’ll “enjoy” replacing that tailgate after backing into a pole!
And Easter Eggs: how I loathe a poorly integrated branding element. Study the MKV Jetta headlight Easter Egg when you want inspiration for a good one.
Speaking of the Vee-Dub brand, the new Atlas SUV was panned for a “boring” front end. To the contrary, it’s well organized, subtle and refined. Dignity!
Plus its rear bumper might protect the hatchback when backing into a pole!
Speaking of no protection, you better hope China repops (and eBay re-sells) replacement obnoxious grilles for the new GMC Terrain in a hurry, ’cause that sucker is large and in charge of everything!
The exaggerated facial expressions tone themselves down from the side. There’s a clear taper from headlight to grille, with a shared vanishing point. DLO FAIL aside, there’s kinetic energy in the harmony of these jagged lines to make one feel this is indeed a premium CUV.
And the other end of the CUV spectrum? The new Compass’ lines sport a coherence and a bulk-free schnoz that pleases the vellum.
It’s obviously a Jeep, but with a thoroughly modern CUV shape and slim bumpers ready to crawl some serious inclines … even if the running gear isn’t up to snuff for the purists.
Is there such thing as a Camry purist? If so, they’ve been disappointed since the late 1990s. Now the perennial top dog jumped the styling shark, giving CUVs ample reason to dominate the sales charts. The train-wreck of the last mid cycle refresh isn’t history, as it returned with a half-baked, over-compensating vengeance. There’s more Camry shame to come in a future Vellum Venom.
Oh Toyota, its like you secretly want the Camry to fail. The Highlander’s elegant organization is missing from all trim levels of its Camry cousin. Bask in the continuity!
Well so much for continuity, credit to the Force 1 from VLF Automotive. Sometimes an artist needs to know when to stop painting. (Less speed holes, more headlight aperture.) But hey, it’s nice to see Henrik Fisker’s still making custom rides from high-end machinery.
Oh no, the four spoke wheels! Precisely what my Transportation Design teachers loathed, and taught me to loathe! Nothing slows down a design like spokes that meet at a 90 degree angle. While the spokes bend in at the center, it’s still a super static look.
The Force 1 could learn a thing or six from the new Nissan Quashqai Cash-Cow Rogue Sport. Talk about design continuity! Hard edges and straight lines balancing out soft curves, just the right number of vanishing points, and slight duckface/puckering on the fascia (taper from outside toward the centerline) should be all the hotness for the selfie generation.
The emblem within the radar cruise control thingie (let’s call it a “front fascia window feature” as the tech stuff isn’t relevant when you’re talking styling) is surprisingly well rendered, giving a deep 3D effect for an affordable-ish vehicle.
Because this is what you’d expect at a non-luxury car price: cheap and flat on the Hyundai Ioniq.
Or perhaps at a luxury price too? The redesigned Cadillac crest (with artificial depth shadowing) looks even more shameful when it’s a flat “front fascia window feature.”Time to bring back a proper wreath and crest, because this turkey’s gotta go.
Who you callin’ a turkey? Look at my Botox injected lips (i.e. the kidney grille’s frames) and my unfortunately integrated “front fascia window feature.” Here are some home remedies you should try on your new BMW 5 Series.
Speaking of puffy and overwrought, how are these layers better than a flat Abarth emblem?
And it’s a big emblem, too. Small cars deserve small emblems, please.
This Jeep throwback has all the right moves.*relaxing sigh*We really did proportion vehicles better back when there were no computers to give us the unnecessary freedom to make whatever the heck we wanted!
*grunting*Time to tense up: meet the new Lexus LS. The avant-garde, nearly abstract expressionism design language (a.k.a. L-Finesse) is eye-catching in a Jackson Pollock kinda way. The grille’s distorted geometric shapes beg for attention, but stretching that shape over the lower bumper is more like a girdle working overtime. Perhaps that’s a picture not worth painting.
If the steep angles are any indication, the headlight’s vanishing point is probably a black hole. Definitely a bit much for a flagship sedan.
The new window-intensive C-pillar gives a softer, near luxury look reminiscent of a first-gen Hyundai Azera. It’s a harsh assessment, but going less fuddy-duddy doesn’t work if you’re from the land of SLABs. At least the rear’s subtle Bangle-butt is acceptable while the taillight’s vanishing point translates nicely into a flat spot in the quarter panel for better aerodynamics.
Spend enough time walking the show floor and the harmonious lines of the new Buick LaCrosse suck you in, almost making it heir apparent to the last-gen Lexus LS.
This ride wears the same Lexus styling elements but looks smoother and happier in its skin. Call it a Buick Electra or Park Avenue and you’d have a winner in the American South. Slab swangin’, baby!
Speaking of happy, look at that (aluminum?) smile on this VW concept! This might be the best interpretation of the VW Type 2 for a concept vehicle, mostly because it’s a brilliant combination of new design language (eyebrow lights, oversized emblems, CUV worthy butchness in the bumpers, etc) and the classic (dare I say iconic?) look of the original.This vehicle could usher a new era of VW products, engineering and corporate culture — and that smile will lead the charge!
The aluminum “smile” has depth, highlights the fascia’s taper and separates transitions (hood to A-pillar) without offending the body’s lower half.
While not as elegant as a Chrysler minivan’s (dare I say iconic?) integrated door runner within the window belt-line design, this certainly works. Viva German Engineering if this makes production!
A nice matte finish paint job and the original high quality “front fascia window feature” (that all others are judged by) are present on this flagship Mercedes-Benz. How can you top all this?
Not with a cornball designation worthy of a ’90s-era monochrome truck. It’s not merely uncreative, it’s downright down-market compared to the vehicle saddled with this emblem.
I couldn’t get a decent shot of this upcoming beauty (Kia Stinger GT) but it’s the business from any angle: muscular rear-wheel-drive proportions with a smattering of design cues reminiscent of what put the GEN III Optima (2010-2015) on the design map. Kia’s Tiger Nose works anywhere! And how!
This Chinese automaker is gonna be yuge I tell you. While the Trumpchi sedan’s appearance (especially the interior) is one or two generations behind the class leaders, the price (trade war notwithstanding) could easily justify both the name and the look.
Any good autoblogger, especially the guy that started the whole autojournos-love-brown-cars thing, must end with a brown station wagon. Volvo did us proud with the modest yet muscularly-toned V90. Tasty.
Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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2 of 78 comments
  • Geo Geo on Jan 24, 2017

    Love these pieces, and how they identify - in words - design elements that just seem "off" to me. Looking forward to the Camry piece.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Dec 01, 2017

    The first thing I'd do is black out the core of that GMC Terrain and paint the outlining chrome body-colored. That could only help that ugly schnozz. The Camry needs that blacked-out grill painted white to give some substance to its nose; the only grills worse than theirs belongs to Lexus, their so-called 'luxury' line. Most here already know what I think of the Lexus grills. Of all the cars pictured above, only the Jeeps and maybe the Buick looked decent (well, the Porsche did too but I'd never own one.)

  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .
  • Lou_BC Backing up accidents are one of the most common causes of low speed accidents. You'd think sensors and cameras would help.
  • Jpolicke Jaguar started making cars that were dead ringers for Kia Optimas, but less reliable. They now look like everything and nothing; certainly nothing to aspire to.